John Hill, a Gophers assistant coach in men's hockey for eight seasons, is leaving the program, the university announced Sunday.

His departure has been rumored for several months. Hill, 50, has been a part of Don Lucia's coaching staff three times at two different Division I programs.

Reports online and elsewhere said the Gophers would replace him with Mike Guentzel, a Minnesota assistant coach for 14 years until leaving the Gophers in April of 2008. A source with knowledge of the situation said the Gophers are negotiating with Guentzel.

Guentzel, 48 and a former Gophers defenseman, just finished his first year as an assistant coach at Nebraska-Omaha, after serving one year as head coach and general manager of the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and one year as an assistant coach at Colorado College.

Hill's departure ends a coaching association with Lucia that dates to 1995.

"I appreciate all the hard work John gave to Gopher Hockey," Lucia said in a statement. "I wish John nothing but success in the future and thank him for his commitment to Gopher Hockey."

Hill coached with Lucia at Colorado College from 1995 to '99, joined Lucia at Minnesota for two seasons and left to become head coach at Alaska Anchorage, his alma mater, in 2001. Hill coached the Seawolves from 2001 to '05 before returning to Minnesota for the 2005-06 season, replacing assistant Bob Motzko, who left for St. Cloud State.

The Gophers were WCHA champions in 2005-06 and 2006-07, but their fortunes turned, and the past four seasons they have finished seventh, fifth, seventh and fifth in the conference standings. For three years in a row, they have not advanced to the NCAA tournament.

Posts on Gophers hockey-related websites often have blamed Hill, in charge of the team's defensemen the past three seasons, for the team's struggles. Lucia, who is negotiating a contract extension with the university, defended him two months ago in an interview.

"Most of the criticism ends up John's way. And he understands that and I understand that,'' Lucia said. "And I always say back in the '90s we worked together [at Colorado College] and we lost in the [1996] national championship game to Michigan.

"We had three, four defensemen who were All-Americans, we had defensive players of the year," Lucia said, referring to the Tigers. "John came here when I first came to work here and certainly helped us those couple years to where we won a couple national titles [in 2002 and '03].

"The criticism should come on me and really should come on all of us. Probably a little more gets added just from the fact that [Hill] is not from the state of Minnesota or played here."

Hill called Lucia his best friend in the world in January of 2009, when he served as the interim head coach for a series at North Dakota when Lucia was ill with sarcoidosis, an inflammation that numbed the left side of his face.